Thursday, January 28, 2016

Precious antique heirlooms

La Toynbee is off one on again in today's Guardian, angrily decrying the arrogant ideological vandalism that has caused the Government to sell off accoutrements of the state for no reason other than the purblind pursuit of hard right-wing small state barbarism. And what are these priceless heirlooms, the disposal of which causes such wailing and gnashing of teeth?
The Press Association lists this fire sale: Royal Mail, Eurostar, Northern Rock and shares in RBS and Lloyds were just the ones that made headlines.
If you're looking for a clear proof of a Government red in tooth and claw, this isn't a great place to start. The Royal Mail was privatised in line with the recommendations of a bi-partisan report commissioned under the last Labour Government. The clearly expressed intention at the time that the Government took stakes in Northern Rock, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS was that this was a temporary measure and that there was no intention for the Government to become permanent shareholders.

Ultimately, there is one test for Government assets, and it's the one expressed by Danny Alexander at the time the Eurostar sell off was announced:
“It’s the government’s job to create the right economic conditions to allow businesses to flourish and create the wealth we all need to support our standard of living and the public services we all depend on. But there’s no virtue in the government owning assets it doesn’t need to," 
Why should the Government own shares in Lloyds Bank? Why should it retain ownership of a land development site in Kings Cross? Polly has an answer to this:
And London land is exceptionally precious – land the state will need but can never regain.
Obviously Polly has misunderstood the details (it's Polly after all). This isn't land owned by the Government that's being sold. It's an investment in a land development company. Which means that the land will be developed with or without the Government being an investor. But more generally, isn't Polly forever decrying holding land in case you might need it later? She is for housebuilders:
They sat on land banks watching values rise. Sitting on prime land with planning for 300,000 homes, they build in neither boom nor in slump, when borrowing is cheap. 
What's happening in Kings Cross?
The 67-acre King’s Cross estate is being developed into 8 million square feet of mixed use space, consisting of offices, apartments, retail space, educational establishments and leisure areas across 50 new and refurbished buildings, and with 26 acres of public realm, including 10 new parks and squares, 20 new streets and 3 new bridges across the Regent’s Canal. Its occupiers include Google, the Aga Khan Development Network, and University of the Arts London.
Is this a bad thing, that the Government should stop in case it "needs" the land later? Or is it just that the Government should have a stake because.... because why? There's no answer to this in the article - the benefits of retaining Government ownership of everything from catastrophically mismanaged banks to property developers is just assumed. In decrying the wanton ideology of a Government that is weighing up the need for Government to own each individual asset, Polly fails to realise that her own unspoken prejudices are more ideological by far.


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